‘Grand bargain’ $15 minimum wage bill passed by Legislature

The Massachusetts House has unveiled and quickly passed a long-awaited “grand bargain” bill aimed at keeping citizen petitions off the ballot this year, including measures supporting a $15 minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, and sales tax adjustments.

Later on Wednesday, the bill passed the Senate with no amendments, meaning it will go to Gov. Charlie Baker for a signature. Both houses passed the bill with veto-proof majorities.

The bill includes a five-year, phased-in increase to a $15 minimum wage from the state’s current $11-an-hour minimum, 12 weeks of paid family leave, 20 weeks of paid medical leave, and a permanent sales tax holiday weekend. It does not include a reduction in the sales tax rate.

State Rep. Jose Tosado, D-Springfield, said he is pleased with the bargain bill.

“Obviously no one is satisfied with 100 percent of everything, but this makes Massachusetts one of the states with the highest minimum wage around,” he said. “I think it’s fair for working people.”

Tosado said he liked the provisions for paid family and medical leave as well as the sales tax holiday, but he was less pleased to see that, as part of the deal, mandated time-and-a-half pay for Sundays and holidays will be phased out.

Some had speculated that the so-called grand bargain bill would not be voted on before the July 3 deadline to secure a spot on the November 2018 ballot, but Tosado said he was glad the Legislature got a chance to vote on it.

“This is very important stuff that affects millions of folks in Massachusetts,” he said. “Folks in leadership had been working on this bill for quite some time.”

Rose Bookbinder is a lead organizer with Jobs with Justice based in Northampton, one of about 100 organizations working with Raise Up Massachusetts on fighting for a $15 minimum wage and paid family and medical leave.

When Bookbinder spoke with the Valley Advocate, Raise Up Massachusetts had not yet decided whether it was going to continue to pursue the $15 minimum wage ballot initiative, but the organization had decided to remove the paid family leave question, which would have provided 16 weeks of leave rather than 12, as well as higher pay during that time.

On a personal level, Bookbinder said that continuing to push forward with the ballot questions makes sense, as they would create stronger protections for working people. On an organizational level, however, it costs millions of dollars to turn out the vote and those resources could be used for other efforts, she said.

“We’ve been a part of collecting thousands of signatures and it is clear to us people wanted what was written on the ballot question,” Bookbinder said. “We had hundreds of volunteers out collecting signatures for the initiatives written by the people, but what we see is the business lobby is strong.”

Andrew Farnitano, a spokesman for Raise Up Massachusetts, said the organization is still reviewing the legislation, though he had good things to say about the paid family leave portion.

“On the paid leave portion, we are thrilled,” he said. “This is best-in-the-nation paid family leave legislation with strong protections and benefits, especially for low income workers.”

At the same time, the organization has concerns over the gradual elimination of Sunday and holiday time-and-a-half pay over a period of five years, and the size of the increase of the tipped worker minimum wage, which would go from $3.75 to $6.75 over a period of five years.

Some of the best parts of the compromise are provisions that were left out of it, according to state Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, a legislator from Amherst who is unaffiliated with a party.

Goldstein-Rose said he was concerned there would be a provision lowering the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent and a provision creating a separate and lower minimum wage for teen workers.

“This saves us from having this sales tax ballot question,” he said. “Were that to go forward and pass, we would lose a billion dollars, which would be devastating for all kinds of state programs.”

Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield, said the important thing is that the compromise legislation helps families.

“Family and medical paid leave is huge,” he said. “It is a family issue; that impacts many people in my district.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@valleyadvocate.com.

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